April 3rd, 2009 Ice Diving

Posted on 03. Apr, 2009 by Greg Mossfeldt in Minnewanka

Mike Burgess, Greg McCuaig and Greg Mossfeldt ice diving over the 1912 Dam at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park.

I hadn't seen Mike Burgess since last summer and he had mentioned a work transfer to the Vancouver area may be imminent so I knew his travels out west may be starting soon.

Mike messaged me, mentioning passage to the west coast through Calgary. He was coming through on April 2nd so the plan was to get together to catch up on the times. John Weisbrich has been honing his physique with me at Westside as of late so were pumping the iron together on this day so he was able to join Mike and I for some comaraderie. After our work out John and I made our way up to Sunridge Nissan where Mike was getting some work done to his vehicle and we met up for lunch at the local Edo of Japan.

Mike filled us in on some of his upcoming adventures, we talked about CCR's and the common politics we are so often privy to in the technical diving circles. aWe also planned future diving get togethers which included a wreck diving excursion to Sweden and the Baltic Sea.

Mike's vehicle was in for service as mentioned and they planned on surveying the systems for some time yet. We decided a trip over to see Charlene at Aquasport Scuba would be in order where Mike purchased a new 80ft3 cylinder amid the recession and all. We talked with Charlene a bit and then we went back to the rendezvous at Sunridge. We then started talking local diving and I mentioned ice diving the following day. Mike was IN and we made arrangements to meet in the morning at my place.

Greg McCuaig has been a keen enthusiast as of late and when I mentioned the diving was on for Friday he was ready to go as well.

Greg McCuaig and Mike met me in the morning as planned and it was west down the Trans Canada to wetter pastures. Once we arrived at Lake Minnewanka it was obvious ice diving was still a go. We were able to see the undisturbed snow blanketed lake which made us believe we had some solid ice covering along with the reports we had heard.

We arranged our gear and placed it neatly around the vehicle on the causeway while multi-taskers Greg and Mike entertained questions from curious tourists before the trek down the rocky slope to our destination above the 1912 Dam.

It appeared there had been a some ice diving enthusiasts the past week or so as a triangular area was cordoned off in the snow. This is required for safety indication to lake users and we set our gear down at this point hoping these fellows were in the correct location (which they were off by quite a bit, I should have landmarked the spot myself before the chain saw ripped into the frozen surface). Mike took up the chain saw and began to rev through the ice and had a pattern cut in very little time. I then made my way to the area of construction complete with dry suit and gloves then took over for the deeper cuts where the water begins to seep through the cracked ice. It wasn't to long until we had the ice pieced out in puzzle formation and ready to pull onto the surface.

One of the brianiac newer ice divers mentioned to me it was way easier to just pull the ice out of the water rather than pushing it under as it was to difficult for them to push it back into place. I had only done this one or two times but thought I would give it another go. What he failed to mention was they pulled the ice out of the water with help from a small army. At anyrate Mike, Greg and I began the strenuous process of pulling the ice out as per my direction. I think I should be hit with a ball of my own shit for listening to this guy and will no longer be trying to pull 25" ice blocks out of the water. Perseverance brought the ice up and it did provide some picturesque imaging along with ample platforms to place our gear but we did work for it. Last time I try to pull the ice onto the surface though ... lesson learned.

Greg McCuaig was right in there toughing out the wet, cold conditions and had that ice screw just cutting through the surface of the block which would provide us purchase to tie a rope on and apply some leverage. The group before us left a couple nice ropes in the snow so we were able to draw on that. The rope also doubled as a well placed trip line and when I saw Greg almost do a header over the rope it clued me in and my jungle instinct surfaced quickly, luckily we viewed the rope as another tool of opportunity.

The group before us was very thoughtful and must have known we didn't really fancy bringing down all the knick, knacks so left things for us in the snow. They also left warning markers which we also used again to indicated the location we had just been served.

Mike was our picture guy today, and he took some great photos of us on the surface before diving and also got in some tanning on the old boat dock while Greg and I were under the water.

The plan was for me to try out my new used camera, housing, and strobes but when I went to switch settings on the camera the older battery failed me so we left the underwater set up on the surface today. We had set up a slave strobe on the back of Greg's tanks but we will have to try again next Friday in hopes the system works out.

For some reason I was quite light in the water today but a kick or two down and all was fine. The ice triangle we used was quite a distance from the footings of the 1912 Dam and it took a bit of orienting to find our way over to the main structure. The vis was not to bad but the surface triangle was not visible at all and it was very dark due to the snow covering on the surface. I decided to keep the reel in hand just in case we went off our mark today due to the low ambient lighting we were subjected too. We stayed along the upper sections of the 1912 Dam and will leave the deeper ventures for another day.

We had a square indention engraved in our ice triangle to assist us in propping ourselves up and out of the water on the surface. Even at that Mr. McCuaig was a wiener with his big OC gear and thanks to Mike's insightful characteristics hauled him out of the water and cut short his tanning session. I shouldn't be so bold as I did have Mike pull off my fins and it was fun to watch him fly to the other side of the ice triangle to the off suction between the fin and the booties on the Diving Concept suit.

The fun was not over as we had to put all the ice back into the triangle. What a job that was and it took a mammoth effort to slide these glaciers off of the comfortable snow packed footing. With my hockey experience, McCuaigs strength carrying those big steel tanks and Mike's pulling power we managed to dislodge the nice ice sculptures and direct them to the point of origin. Once they splashed in the water we had to arrange the puzzle of ice sections which took more time on top of it all.

We were motivated to get out of the mountains at this point so hastily drove to Craig's Way Station for all the junk food we could muster during one sitting.

Good to see you again Mike and I am thinking of how we will be able to get together for some west coast diving.

Greg we shall see you next Friday and hopefully our day will go a little smoother in the sense of just putting the ice blocks under the surface!